All travellers face risks overseas. In certain countries or cultures, women face greater risks than men and may be more vulnerable.
We've prepared this general advice to help you reduce the risk of things going wrong while you're away. Explore this page to learn about:
- choosing safe transport
- being secure in your accommodation
- avoiding unwanted attention
- dressing for your destination
- staying safe when socialising
- looking after your health
- local laws and customs that affect women
- dating and romance scams
- overlapping risks you might face
This page is for Australian women preparing to travel overseas. If you're already travelling and need help, see what to do when things go wrong overseas.
Choose safe transport
The risks women are more likely to face in transport are:
- verbal harassment
- groping (especially on crowded public transport)
- sexual assault while sleeping on a train
It may be tempting to experience local transport for the culture or to save money. However, it does increase the risk. To reduce the risks:
- arrange airport transfers before you arrive
- use only official, licensed and reputable taxis. Be wary of people posing as taxi drivers.
- sit in the backseat of a taxi behind the driver
- while in a taxi or car service, act as if someone is expecting you and will raise the alarm if you don't arrive. You could make a phone call or mention to your driver that someone is waiting for you
- be cautious on crowded public transport in cities and remote areas, as you could be subject to harassment or theft. If you feel uncomfortable, sit in train compartments with women or near the driver or guard.
- avoid travelling in train carriages where you are alone
- do not hitchhike. Hitchhiking is not safe in any country in the world.
Read our tips to stay safe while travelling on public transport.
Be secure in your accommodation
When you're asleep, you're particularly vulnerable. To reduce the risk of assault, avoid sharing accommodation with strangers or people you have just met, including renting a spare room or couch.
When booking your accommodation:
- book before you go
- book and check in using only your first initial and surname - no title (Miss, Ms or Mrs)
- if you're travelling alone, avoid accommodation where entrances are in back streets or isolated locations. If you can't tell from a map, check online reviews from other travellers
When you arrive at your accommodation:
- ask to see your room before taking it
- make sure the telephone works and that the door has a peephole, deadbolt or chain lock
- avoid taking a room on the ground floor
While staying at your accommodation:
- use the locks when inside to ensure your door is always firmly secured. You can also use a door wedge on the inside of the door when you're in the room
- if you return to your room to find doors or windows open or broken, do not enter. Contact reception or the police
- don't discuss where you're staying when you're out in public and remember that offers of free accommodation are usually too good to be true
In some countries, it's illegal for a man and woman to share a hotel room if they're not married.
Avoiding unwanted attention
As a woman, you may become the focus of unwanted attention in some countries. Maintain your composure and remove yourself from a concerning situation as quickly as possible. Get to a safe, public location.
- Always act confidently. If you behave like you know where you're going and what you're doing, you're less likely to appear vulnerable.
- Avoid shopping in isolated areas – the fewer people around (especially foreign women), the more you'll stand out.
- Avoid trying on items in back rooms at bazaars and markets.
- If you ever feel uncomfortable or in danger, attract attention by shouting or making a scene. Use your judgement if you suspect someone has weapons.
- Have a photo of your partner (real or imagined) to avoid unwanted romantic attention.
Dress for the destination
Consider your clothing in the context of the culture you're visiting. Many countries are more conservative than Australia. They have different standards for women and men.
You could attract unwanted attention if you don't comply with local laws and customs. If you wear something that locals consider inappropriate, you could be harassed, robbed, sexually assaulted or arrested. It doesn't matter whether or not you agree with the culture you're visiting – you must respect it.
This may involve wearing conservative clothing or covering your head or shoulders in certain locations.
- Look at what local women are wearing and if in doubt, dress as they do.
- Wear clothing that respects local laws and customs, even if you don't agree with the local way.
- Avoid wearing or carrying anything that makes you appear wealthy, such as expensive jewellery or handbags.
- Wearing a wedding ring can help you avoid unwanted attention.
Read our travel advice for destinations you'll be visiting to understand where conservative dress standards apply or where women must wear certain clothing by law.
Be social safely
- Guard the details of your travel plans. Don't advertise you're travelling alone.
- Your social media posts can show your location. You might want to change how you post and increase your privacy settings while you're travelling.
- Never leave your drink unattended or in the care of a stranger or new friend. Drink spiking is common around the world.
- When you're out, keep your bag close and on the opposite side of your body to the street to discourage bag snatchers.
- As in Australia, avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas. Our travel advice details areas of major cities to avoid. Your hotel, travel guides, locals and other travellers are also good resources.
- Be aware of cultural standards. In some cultures, women shaking hands with men is unacceptable. Making eye contact with a man or sitting in the front seat of a taxi may be perceived as a sexual advance.
- Make sure you have control over your transport moving from place to place when hanging out with a new group of people.
Look after your health
- Supplies of feminine hygiene products and contraceptives, including condoms, can be poor quality or unavailable. Purchase them in advance.
- If you're planning to travel while pregnant, see your doctor well in advance. Airlines can have different rules for pregnant women travelling and may not permit you to fly as late into your pregnancy as you can in Australia.
- It's a good idea to carry a letter from your doctor verifying the stage of your pregnancy. Check with your airline for any other requirements. Make sure your travel insurance covers your pregnancy.
- Female genital mutilation (FGM) occurs in some countries. Some families could try to inflict this on visiting relatives.
- See the health pages for more information about staying healthy overseas.
Be aware of the law
- Some countries' legal systems impose strict limits on women's rights. While these laws may be harsh by Australian standards, they will apply to you when you're in the country. Check the Laws section of our travel advice.
- Women of any nationality can be subject to "stop orders" in some countries, including Lebanon and Egypt. This means their husbands or other relatives can legally prevent them leaving the country. This can also apply to children.
- Overseas immigration authorities may require proof that children have their father's approval to leave the country.
- Be aware of divorce laws. You may need a legal or religious divorce before leaving a country or having another relationship overseas. Seek legal advice on property entitlements, inheritance, alimony, child support and custody issues.
- Some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, may imprison foreigners for having sex outside of marriage. Victims of sexual assault may face criminal charges rather than protection.
- Women may be legally required to travel with a male escort.
- It's illegal in some countries for women to drive alone.
- A forced marriage is one where, because of coercion, threat or deception, a person enters a marriage without freely and fully consenting. This is a criminal offence in Australia and applies to actions overseas.
Be cautious about new relationships
It's exciting to meet someone online and travel overseas to meet them. And it's just as exciting to find friendship or romance while on your adventure. While overseas friendships and romances can work out well, follow these tips to stay safe.
Going overseas to meet someone you met online
Be wary of relationships started over the internet. Cyber-dating scams are common. Australians have lost large amounts of money on sham marriage partners. In some instances, relationship scammers kidnap and hold to ransom Australians who've travelled overseas to meet their online partner.
If you do travel overseas to meet someone for the first time, always:
- meet in a public place
- make sure someone you trust knows where, when and with whom the meeting will take place
- never give them your passport, money or details of your bank account
- be especially wary of gifts – they could contain hidden drugs which could see you arrested or jailed for drug trafficking
- contact a trusted person afterwards to tell them you're safe
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's SCAMwatch website has more information on recognising, protecting yourself from and reporting scams.
Be careful with holiday romances. Taking a relaxing holiday doesn't mean you should relax your standards for your safety or security.
- Be wary about sharing your accommodation with someone you just met.
- Use a condom. Some serious and life-threatening sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like AIDS / HIV are more prominent in some destinations.
Different aspects of your identity can expose you to overlapping forms of discrimination and increase the risks you might face. This is sometimes referred to as intersectionality. Aspects of your identity can include your:
- sexual orientation
- mental health.
Final tips before you go
- Read the travel advice for the countries you plan to visit and subscribe to notifications for updates.
- Research guidebooks and online forums that cover travel issues for women. Talk to friends, family and colleagues who have travelled to the places you plan to visit.
- Leave a detailed itinerary with someone at home and plan to keep in regular contact.
- Choose a destination where you'll feel safe, comfortable, and prepared for any issues you may face.
- Read our travel advice for your destinations. Check our advice about staying safe.
- Plan to marry overseas? Learn the legal, cultural and religious implications for you, your intended spouse and any existing or future children.
- See our advice on reducing the risk of sexual assault, muggings and scams.
- See our information for pregnancy, adoption and surrogacy overseas.
- Risks can be higher for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in some countries.
- Read more about forced marriage and where to get help.
- See our information about female genital mutilation.
- See information about getting married overseas (Attorney-General's Department)
- Read travel safety tips and travel tips for women (Victorian Department of Health and Human Services)
- Read more about sexual assault while travelling (Government of Canada)
- See safety and health advice for LGBTI travellers (UK Government)
- For emotional support, get emergency or crisis counselling (Lifeline)